7/10 While a film like “Beau is Afraid” was always destined to completely fail at the box office due to how weird/existential it is and its three hour running time, I am glad A24 took a chance on writer/director Ari Aster’s third film, despite the millions they will lose on it. A24 should still invest in the Ari Aster business however, seeing as how before the immensely overrated “Everything Everywhere All at Once” became A24’s highest grossing film, Ari Aster’s directorial feature length debut “Hereditary” held that mantle for years. While this film leaves the audience with many unanswered questions and feels a lot like Aster is working out his own mommy issues in a three hour therapy session crossed with an acid trip, I couldn’t help but admire the film’s originality and how well made it was. The plot is incredibly simple for a film of its scope and scale which follows Beau Wassermann (Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix) as he tries to go visit his mother but is crippled by extreme anxiety and his general fear of everything (though we come to learn many of his fears are well founded). Aster has described the film as a “Jewish Lord of the Rings” as a character partakes in an epic journey, except instead of saving all of Middle Earth, he is just visiting his mother. The first half of the film is the stronger half as it is more coherent and has the best comedic moments. The way Aster is able to translate Beau’s anxiety into the audience and make us feel anxious from just watching is truly impressive. Beau lives in a Hell hole apartment in a dangerous, crumbling city and is afforded no safety no matter where he is as danger is constantly all around him. Despite Aster’s dark themes throughout his filmography, he has shown he can handle comedy well (Will Poulter’s Mark character in “Midsommar” remains hilarious upon a recent rewatch) and “Beau is Afraid” only cements how well he can work humor into stories of fear, anxiety and horror. The production values are incredible as the production design of his apartment complex to a teenage girl’s bedroom to his mother’s fancy house are all incredibly detailed and feel genuinely real. The attention to detail has been remarkable across all of Aster’s films but “Beau is Afraid” has the most background gags going on, particularly in the first hour. The acting is fantastic across the board but this is Phoenix’s film from start to finish and his sheer commitment to Beau’s mental health issues is highly entertaining and equally uncomfortable. There is a dream sequence with a lot of animation halfway through the film that was one of the highlights of the entire film and visually impressive. Aster is a master of scene transitions and the fantastic editing continues to contribute to that here. The score and soundtrack perfectly add to the weirdness and humor of the film. As for what doesn’t quite work, the second half of the film and final act in particular does become a bit incoherent and self indulgent with many nonsensical moments. Aster uses water all throughout the film and also has sex bringing about death, rather than life which was interesting but with so many weird moments, we don’t even know if what is happening is real, all in Beau’s head or something else. The ending feels slightly anti-climactic as we wonder what the Hell we just witnessed for the past three hours. While I can clearly understand why so many people wouldn’t enjoy this film and why it failed at the box office (this has no appeal to a mass audience used to romantic comedies and superhero movies), I would much rather bold film makers take a massive, original swing at daring, uncomfortable material than continue to see the generic garbage that 90% of movies coming from Hollywood are today. With incredible film making on display, memorable imagery, committed performances, some great humor and maddening originality, “Beau is Afraid” may not make complete sense and have you scratching your head as the end credits begin to roll, but I’m certainly glad I wasn’t afraid to check out my 6th most anticipated film of 2023.

#MommyWeirdest / #StarringRichardUnkind / #ABeauEbb / #IncoherentVice / #OursInTheAttic / #MothersWay

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